How to Become a Nutritionist
More and more, we’re hearing about the importance of eating healthy to obtain good health and avoid obesity or illness. Unfortunately, many people have difficulty maintaining a good diet on their own. This is particularly the case when it comes to the good eating part. A nutritionist can be a real help to these people because this is what they’re trained to do. Learn more about the important role a nutritionist can play in someone’s life as well as how to become a nutritionist.
What is a Nutritionist?
A nutritionist is a professional who offers advice to others regarding nutrition and food and the impact they can have on your health. As defined by the National Cancer Institute, a nutritionist helps people form health eating habits and provides counseling and resources for them to do so. Nutritionists may specialize in a specific area, such as public health, sports nutrition, and animal nutrition, among others. Some people use the words nutritionist and dietician interchangeably. While there are a few differences, they are also quite similar.
While nutritionists work with general nutritional behaviors and goals, dietitians are used to diagnose eating disorders and create diets that help with certain medical issues. However, for the sake of this article, we’re treating nutritionists and dietitians as one individual. You can find nutritionists working in hospitals, schools, athletic organizations, cafeterias, and medical facilities. There are different types of nutritionists.
- Community nutritionists – They work with all members of the community.
- Clinical nutritionists – They work with infants and patients in a healthcare setting.
- Management nutritionists – They work with a large group of people in an organization or business.
- Sports nutritionists – They work with athletes or people who lead active lifestyles.
Aspiring nutritionists and dietitians can look forward to a career with good job growth. They can expect an employment growth of seven percent between 2021 and 2031 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). More than 5,500 new nutritionist and dietician jobs should be created each year during that time period.
Their positive job growth comes from the public’s interest in promoting not only health and wellness but also preventative care. The aging population requires the services of nutritionists to help them stay healthy and live longer.
Nutritionists work in various industries like outpatient care centers, special food services, nursing care facilities, and local government, but the highest number work in general medical and surgical hospitals. The states with the highest number of nutritionists and dietitians employed are:
In addition to having good job potential, nutritionists also have the potential to earn good wages. As of a May 2021 BLS report, nutritionists and dietitians earned an average wage of $65,620 wages ranging from $42,530 to $93,640. The average hourly wage is $29.64. Below are the top five states where nutritionists earn the highest wages.
|Median annual salary
How to Become a Nutritionist
If you’re wondering how to become a nutritionist, it all begins with education and training. Most nutritionists have at least a bachelor’s degree in food, dietetics, or nutrition. The degree the individual chooses can vary depending on what type of nutritionist the individual wants to be and what the state requires. Generally, the aspiring nutritionist must complete the following steps to become a nutritionist.
- Complete dietetics prerequisite courses
- Earn the degree
- Complete a dietetic internship
- Take the Dietetic registration exam
- Obtain licensure in the state the individual intends to work
- Keep up with continuing education
The internships are generally completed at the end of the degree program, but some colleges offer programs that allow the students to complete their internships as part of their coursework.
Day in the Life of a Nutritionist
It would be safe to say that a day in the life of a nutritionist is never the same because they have so many different duties and responsibilities and also can work in so many different areas and capacities. For instance, a sports nutritionist working with athletes may have duties quite different than one working for a school. The one thing they all have in common is the knowledge of good nutrition and their commitment to helping people lead healthy lives. Below are some of their many duties.
- They speak with clients about the importance of healthy eating habits.
- They counsel their clients on various nutrition-related issues.
- They monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of a nutrition plan and determine if any changes need to be made.
- They create nutrition and meal plans while keeping the client’s budget and preferences in mind.
- They assess the health and nutritional needs of each client.
- They do research on different and new food and nutrition information.
- They speak with groups of people about nutrition, diet, and how healthy eating can manage or prevent certain diseases.
- They create educational pamphlets and brochures on healthy living through healthy food choices.
- They document and review the client’s progress.
- They schedule appointments with clients.
Nutritionists work with each client on a one-on-one basis because every client is different, and every client has different dietary needs. They use diagnostic lab testing and nutrition assessment to evaluate the progress and health of their clients.
Depending on their findings, the nutritionist will counsel clients on intervention and behavior modification plans. This typically includes advising the clients on what food they should be eating and what foods they should avoid to improve their health.
Nutritionists also work with clients who have health issues such as autoimmune disease, heart problems, or even obesity. In many cases, the nutritionist will create a personalized diet for everyone. For instance, they might create a diet for a diabetic that helps control the client’s blood sugar.
If they’re working with a heart patient, they’ll create a diet low in sugar but rich in heart-healthy foods. Nutritionists also work in healthcare settings and collaborate with the healthcare staff on finding the best diet for a particular individual. When working with patients suffering from health issues, the nutritionist must be very careful and responsible.
If they’re working in a hospital, for instance, they must be diligent about making sure the right diet goes to the right patient. Whereas in the past when nutritionists were only used for specific health conditions, today they are used in many industries and with a wide variety of people, including healthy people who want to remain healthy and keep an ideal weight.
Licensure, Certifications, and Continuing Education
To work as a nutritionist or carry a certain title, nutritionists are required to be certified and licensed in some states. Some states require certification; some require licensure; some require licensure and registration, and some states have no specific requirements.
If you’re considering becoming a nutritionist, you’ll benefit from learning what your state does or does not require. Information on state licensing requirements can be found on the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) website. Even if candidates are not required to be certified, some choose to become certified to improve their job potential and demonstrate their knowledge and commitment.
There are several types of certifications and registrations available to nutritionists. The CDR offers the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and the Registered Dietician (RD) certification. These two credentials are very similar with one distinction. The N was added to the RD credential to represent nutritionists because they have a few more duties such as including a wider wellness concept and one that involves preventing and treating certain conditions.
To be eligible for these two credentials, the individual must have completed the bachelor’s degree program and the internship. Upon completion of these two things, the individual can take the certification exams.
He or she must also have completed the continuing education credits within a certain number of years. Starting in 2024, nutritionists interested in these two credentials will need a master’s degree rather than a bachelor’s degree. The Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists offers the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential through the American Nutrition Association.
The candidate must meet specific guidelines to be eligible for certification. In the case of the Certified Nutrition Specialist, the candidate must meet these guidelines.
- Must have a master’s or doctoral degree in nutrition or a closely related field
- Must complete at least 35 hours of courses regarding the process of personalized nutrition
- Must complete a supervised internship consisting of at least 1,000 hours
- Must create five personalized case studies
- Must pass an examination
The National Academy of Sports Medicine also offers the Certified Nutrition Coach (CNC) certification and the Certified Nutrition Sports Coach (CNSC) certification. As with all the certifications, the nutritionist must complete a certain number of continuing education credits within a certain amount of time.
In addition to being certified and registered as a nutritionist or dietician, the individual can also choose to obtain certifications in specific areas area, such as sports dietetics, oncology nutrition, or diabetes education to name just a few. The requirements are different from one credential to another, so it’s important to verify the information for each certification.
Starting a career as a nutritionist is exciting. For most, the first step is education, so inquire with a few programs to find the best fit.